Monday, 28 April 2008

Word of Mouth or Word of Pen...Has the Internet killed the Book Review?

Twenty years ago the power of the book review was the difference between a best-seller and a place in the obscurity bin with a sale sticker slapped across the front. Book reviewers held a position of power and high respect in the industry, but over recent years the need to obtain reviews from the mainstream press has diminished.

The arrival of the Internet has broadened the market for publishers and opened hundreds of new channels for small publishers so their books can gain recognition against the established market. Internet portals now specialise in areas of fiction and non-fiction, and many readers turn to these channels before opening ‘The London Times’ or ‘The New York Post’. The word of the new reviewer is 'Word of Mouth' (WOM) and the new reviewer can be you or me. The interesting thing is the influence and position of power is shifting and becoming more democratic.

A recent report showed that traditional book reviews only counted for 5% of sales, of course there are obvious exceptions. But if you look at the phenomenon of 'WOM' and see how powerful it can be, it becomes clear that a change in how people disseminate information and trust what friends, colleagues and even complete strangers are saying over traditional reviewers has occurred. WOM played a huge part in the success of JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series of books. I am sure reviewers from the traditional press would love to take claim for her success, but in reality it was WOM and children passing the word to their friends and family and via sites such as Amazon and social networking on the Internet that made this series such a worldwide success.

Now with the development of Web2.0 and social networking playing such a part in surfers daily net habits, authors and publishers alike would be mad to ignore the possibilities open to them. The term viral was coined on the web long ago and it is as apt a word as any to describe how quickly something can become hot on the web. Sites such as Shelfari, Goodreads and MySpace provide a platform for independent authors and publishers to get their product known and create a buzz. Chatrooms, forums, and messaging add a further dimension that gets people talking about books.

Publishers are also getting wise to the existence of You Tube and other video portals to make video promos. Many of these films are creative and appear to have a higher budget than the minuscule amounts of money actually spent. The book industry has traditionally ignored using film or video to promote its books but now new publishers are embracing every new method to get books in front of people and talking.

The Weblog or Blog is now one of the key ports of call for many readers wanting to know about their favourite author or genre. Many bloggers have taken on the mantle of the ‘new reviewer’ and their word is often trusted beyond that of established journalists. The reach of the blogger is global and for an author to receive a favourable review on a respected site can translate to not only sales but also that all-important WOM.

So where does the traditional reviewer sit in this new world of opportunity. Has he been consigned to the equivalent of the bargain bucket in terms of usefulness? No. A good review in a traditional magazine, newspaper or journal still translates into sales, maybe not as many as in the past but there is still the kudos element which all authors and publishers want associated with it. Believe it or not though, it is not all about sales, though they are important. It is all about word of mouth, which is no more than today's buzz word that encompasses 'product and brand' profile. WOM gives authors and publishers recognition. For the small, independent publisher this can be achieved with more frequency, through more channels and with greater scope on the net. After all, and here is the challenge; are the New York or London Times going to review the latest novel from Darren E Laws or will they stick with the established authors such as Stephen King. No prizes for guessing.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more - and I think the web has opened up a lot of potential for both authors and publishers to get feedback on what they are publishing, particularly in terms of thinking beyond the book and stimulating some really interesting debates.